One of the first words that come to mind for Arsenal fans when thinking about Carlos Vela is ‘chip’.
No, it’s not due to the Mexican having a particular fondness for the potato based snack you can deep fry or oven bake, but instead the technique of hitting a football in an arc-like fashion. The act is synonymous with his time at Arsenal, of which was mostly spent in the Carling Cup, reserve team and on the treatment table.
Last season, however, Vela proceeded to shake off the ‘chip’ tag and instead is carved out a new, more rounded reputation. One of a hard worker and key team component – unfortunately for Arsenal fans the 23-year-old has done the best work in his career thus far away from London, and instead in San Sebastian. It’s there that he will stay after Real Sociedad managed to secure a deal for the player they made their number one priority this summer.
Vela focused on club life for the first time in his career, and had the most prosperous season of his career thus far. Rather than playing in fits and starts, trailing around the world with Mexico, and suffering injuries, there has been a high level of consistency and quality about his game. He has been a cornerstone of La Real and found himself playing in a variety of roles across the front-line. Last term, Vela not only displayed the skills, pace and technique he showed glimpses of in London, but added graft, determination and strength both mentally and physically to his game. More often than not, he was deployed on the left hand side of a 4-3-3, but with Coach Philippe Montanier often altering his system, Vela has also turned up as a lone striker. In both roles, Vela was adept.
He had been given more responsibility, and in turn was been required to become more tactically affluent. He went from impact player looking to scrape any positives out of 15 minutes, to a key man. Vela for the first time, felt wanted. He dropped off the front-line positively to start attacks from deep midfield, providing key passes into wide areas over long distances while keeping it simple over short paths. As the focal point of attack on the shoulder of the last defender, he used that searing pace to evade attention and execute the counter attack to perfection. It explains why he became the first Mexican since 1993-94 to reach nine goals in a single campaign.
Quite the achievement given his club have languished in mid to lower table for the most of the season, and those ahead of him in the assists column are all at clubs located within the top eight. His vision on the field, neat passing, creating space and bringing others into play was a joy to watch. The position of La Real hasn’t detracted any of the dedication from Vela, and during times of their poorest form it was the Mexican had been one of the few redeeming features.
He spoke of greater happiness off the field too, and how he never felt at home in London despite being treated well. Vela now can truly make a home of the luscious San Sebastian sights, and walk along its shoreline not worrying about his future anymore.
With a move now secure, Vela can look ahead to settling down for the first time in an environment he enjoys. Bearing that in mind it’s an exciting time as we’re likely to see more progress in his game, one that will feature even more responsibility.
Handed the No 11 shirt at La Real from departing legend Mikel Aranburu there is more weight upon the Mexican’s shoulders, ‘an enormous honour’ he called it upon being presented. It’s a task Vela will be delighted to take on. With his career no longer sitting still on a substitute bench, Vela can finally stand proud.